New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Hinokuni 2018
April 29th, 2018
Gran Messe Kumamoto
Kumamoto, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Before the show officially got started, they aired the video package which talked about the relief efforts following an earthquake that struck the region two years ago. If you’ll recall, that natural disaster forced New Japan to cancel the 2016 edition of Wrestling Hinokuni, leading to some of the matches on that card being added to other events on the Wrestling Dontaku 2016 tour.

Yuji Nagata & Ren Narita def. Shota Umino & Tomoyuki Oka

The show kicked off with Yuji Nagata in a tag team bout with three young lions. He teamed with Ren Narita on this particular occasion, as they took on Shota Umino (who had a singles bout with Nagata earlier in the tour) and Tomoyuki Oka. This was a very solid opening contest that clocked in at just under ten minutes. As always, the young lions had some fun exchanges amongst themselves, and Nagata played his role as the veteran perfectly. He was actually on the receiving end of some double-team moves, but Narita would help him get out of that sticky situation. It would come down to Nagata vs. Umino, and even though Umino put up a good fight, he was no match for Nagata, who got him to tap out to a crossface. ***1/4

Jushin “Thunder” Liger, David Finlay, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Tiger Mask def. CHAOS (“Switchblade” Jay White & Roppongi 3K)

Seeing Roppongi 3K going up against someone other than Suzuki-gun was a massive breath of fresh air. I was getting so sick and tired of that match they kept having with the Taichi/Taka Michinoku/Takashi Iizuka trio (arguably some of the worst bouts in New Japan this year), so I was overjoyed to see them in something….anything….different. This didn’t end up being as good as the opener, but it was still a fine eight-man tag with plenty of fun moments. Early on, Rocky Romero reignited his feud with Tiger Mask when he tried to rip off his mask. Later, Taguchi set up all four members of the CHAOS team against the ropes, and did running hip attacks to each of them. Ultimately, Finlay would pick up the win for his team after catching Romero with a stunner. This could’ve been a tad better if it was given another two minutes or so, but it was still an entertaining bout. It was also a nice rebound win for Finlay, coming off his loss to Jay White earlier in the tour. ***

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) def. Togi Makabe & Toa Henare

While the result of this particular tag team bout was never really in question, it was still pretty decent from start to finish. Makabe and Yano did their usual stuff, while the Ishii/Henare interactions were, once again, the highlight of a tag team match. Once again, their clash ended with Ishii getting the better of Henare, but honestly, I’ll never get tired of seeing those two go at it. With regards to the Ishii/Yano team, I’m curious to see whether they’ll eventually get a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, or if their role right now is just to be the team that’s built up to be fed to the next challengers (like they were for KES earlier in the year). We’ll see how their involvement in that scene develops in the coming weeks and months, but for now, this was another victory for CHAOS. **3/4

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Taka Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka) def. The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) & The Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi)

This is the first time we’ve seen Zack Sabre Jr. in New Japan since he came up short against Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis. It’s also the first time we’ve seen him in New Japan since the news broke that he signed a contract with the company. Meanwhile, The Bullet Club and The Golden Lovers are making their first appearance on the tour, with Kenny Omega’s hair now being completely blonde. As for the match itself, the opening portion was a little rough, with a ton of brawling on the outside (typical for a multi-person tag involving Suzuki-gun) and a bit in the ring where Iizuka bit everyone on the opposing side. Things did pick up in the second half, however. The highlight of the bout by far was a big four-way dive spot which saw Omega and Ibushi hit the Cross Slash while Owens and Yujiro hit dives of their own to the outside at the same time. Eventually, it came down to Chase Owens vs. Zack Sabre Jr., and the “technical wizard” would score the submission victory for Suzuki-gun. This match was by no means spectacular, but it was fine for what it was. It gave Zack Sabre Jr. a solid rebound win following his big loss to Okada several weeks ago, but it also seemed to tease a potential Omega/Sabre singles bout down the line. **3/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA, & “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin def. CHAOS (“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, & YOSHI-HASHI)

Of course, this eight-man tag was helping to build up the two big title bouts on the May 4th Wrestling Dontaku card (Okada vs. Tanahashi & Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA), but after what transpired at the show in Hiroshima, it also appears to be the start of the build towards a future Hirooki Goto/Michael Elgin bout for the NEVER Openweight Title. Like the earlier multi-man tags on this card, it finished up just before the ten minute mark, and ended up being relatively solid as a whole. There was fine action throughout, as everyone paired off with their respective opponents. Some highlights included Tanahashi hitting Okada with a Sling Blade on the entrance ramp, and Ospreay hitting KUSHIDA with his new finisher, called Stormbreaker. Tanahashi would get the win for his team after hitting the High Fly Flow on YOSHI-HASHI. ***

Almost immediately after the match ended, Taichi (who also issued a challenge to Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight Title in Hiroshima) ran down the ramp and attacked Goto with his mic stand. He also got a shot in on Michael Elgin before he was chased off. Then, as he was making his exit, Okada turned around and sprinted all the way back to ringside to brawl with Tanahashi. The two needed to be separated and eventually had a stare down in the ring before cooler heads finally prevailed.

BUSHI def. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion El Desperado via DQ

Back on the April 23rd Korakuen Hall event, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi came up short in their bid to wrestle the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Titles away from Suzuki-gun. El Desperado used one of the title belts late in that bout, after the referee got knocked down, to secure the win for his side. Now, the two teams have been split up into two singles matches for this event. Not only does it continue the LIJ vs. Suzuki-gun theme for this card, but it’s also cool to see some non-title singles bouts, especially involving the juniors. For the most part, this was a pretty decent match with some nice exchanges throughout. El Desperado repeatedly tried to go after BUSHI’s mask, but BUSHI managed to fight back (he even hit a Canadian Destroyer). The bout could’ve been a little better, but it ended prematurely when Yoshinobu Kanemaru ran in and attacked BUSHI for the DQ. **3/4

Kanemaru was going to help El Desperado tear off BUSHI’s mask, but Hiromu Takahashi ran out to make the save. Their singles bout started shortly thereafter, in a booking move we’ve seen plenty of times before in the US (mainly ECW, ROH, and EVOLVE).

Hiromu Takahashi def. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru

During the brawl that preceded the actual match, Hiromu managed to hit El Desperado with a running dropkick off the apron. He then tried to do the same to Kanemaru, but crashed back first on the floor after Kanemaru moved out of the way. The bell rang after that spot, and from there, the first half of the bout saw Kanemaru work over Hiromu’s injured back. Eventually, Hiromu would manage to mount a comeback, and there was some good back and forth action between the two. This could’ve easily been the best match on the show, up to this point, if not for the interference towards the end. After El Desperado attacked Hiromu earlier the bout, he tried to get involved again after the referee got knocked down. Kanemaru tried to spit the whiskey in the face of Hiromu, but he ended up spitting it in the face of Desperado by accident. BUSHI then used this opportunity to split black mist in Kanemaru’s face, and followed up with a big dive onto Desperado. Hiromu would get the win with the Time Bomb shortly thereafter. A good match as a whole that appeared to set up another title bout between these two teams at some point in the future. ***

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (c) def. The Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.)

LIJ captured the titles from KES in a great title bout back at Wrestle Kingdom XII. Given how great that first encounter was, I was expecting this rematch to be pretty close that first encounter, in terms of quality. It didn’t quite meet those expectations, but these two teams still had a really good match that was easily the best of the night, up to this point. For the most part, KES totally dominated LIJ. They just beat the crap out of the champions, and it looked like they were well on their way to recapturing the titles after hitting SANADA with the Killer Bomb off the apron and through a table. However, EVIL refused to stay down, and he was able to hold on just long enough for SANADA to rejoin the fight. At that moment, LIJ mounted their full comeback, and eventually, EVIL hit his EVIL STO on Davey Boy Smith Jr. to secure the victory. Again, I thought the original bout between these two means at Wrestle Kingdom XII was much better, but this was still very solid from start to finish. There was some fun action throughout, and they told a fine story with EVIL & SANADA managing to survive KES once again. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. Do they defend against Ishii & Yano, or does another team step up to the plate? ***1/2

IWGP Intercontinental Title – Tetsuya Naito def. Minoru Suzuki (c)

This was not a very good night for Suzuki-gun. Zack Sabre Jr. did get the win in an eight-man tag earlier in the night, but it was all downhill from there, and Minoru Suzuki losing the IWGP Intercontinental Title here to Tetsuya Naito just capped off the horrible night that Suzuki’s forces had against LIJ. Now coming into the tour, expectations surrounding this particular title bout were incredibly high. Personally, I didn’t believe these two were going to have this epic encounter worthy of being labeled a match of the year contender (they’re not to have that kind of main event on Wrestling Hinokuni). However, I still figured these two would still have a really good to great match that would set the stage for a big rematch, potentially at Dominion. When the dust settled, this main event between Naito and Suzuki (which went just over thirty minutes or so) ultimately proved to be a massive letdown. The first half of the bout featured some solid back and forth action, but the problem was that the intensity never picked up. Instead of going to that next gear, Suzuki just turned his attention towards the legs of Naito, and we got countless submission attempts that seemed to last forever. I get that the story of the entire tour was that Suzuki was going after Naito’s legs, and I suppose these prolonged submissions were supposed to be a callback of sorts to the Suzuki/Tanahashi bout from the first New Beginning event in Sapporo back in January, but they focused on the leg work too much and for too long. That second half really slowed the match down, and they didn’t really do anything to pick the pace back up. Naito would break free and hit a move or two, but then Suzuki would just catch him in another leg submission. I figured the leg work would lead to something towards the end of the match, but it didn’t. Speaking of which, this ending was very bizarre. Naito broke free, nailed Suzuki with several slaps (which appeared to either brake Suzuki’s nose, or simply bust it up pretty bad), hit a brainbuster, and then followed up with a Destino to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Title for a second time. I don’t think you could even classify that as a “superhero comeback”, because he didn’t hit enough moves. Naito pretty much won the title out of nowhere. This had all the potential in the world to be great, but they never kicked it into high gear, and the second half was just….baffling, to be honest. ***1/4

Naito cut his usual post-match promo with the rest of LIJ to close the show.

Final Thoughts

This certainly wasn’t a bad show, but it wasn’t that memorable either, aside from the result of the main event. The undercard was perfectly solid, though it seemed like most of those bouts were kept under ten minutes, and a few of them could’ve been a little better if they were given another minute or two (just so they could stand out more). The singles bouts on the junior side of things between LIJ & Suzuki-gun weren’t particularly stellar, but they seemed to set up another title match, so it served its purpose in that regard. EVIL & SANADA vs. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles was easily the match of the night, even if it didn’t equal what they did in their first encounter. Then, there was the main event. The result was certainly noteworthy, but as a match, it was probably one of the most disappointing main events in recent memory. It’s a shame because we know both guys are capable of putting on awesome matches. The kind of title bout they were going for just didn’t work in this scenario (with the second half being very tedious to sit through), and even though Naito eventually won the IWGP Intercontinental Title, this bout simply failed to meet people’s expectations. It was a disappointment, without question.